Sediments — 1995 | September 2016

By Adam Kleinman , Orit Gat

When Yahoo! was sold to Verizon for $4.8 billion this past July, it was the beginning of the end of the long reach of 1995. First imagined as Jerry and David’s Guide to the World Wide Web in 1994, Yahoo! was incorporated in Sunnyvale, California as a directory of websites organized hierarchically rather than as a searchable index (which was what Google, incorporated in 1998, did with PageRank). In the period we now call the “early internet,” the foundation of Yahoo!, alongside other 1995 landmarks—the introduction of eBay, the Netscape IPO—was the moment that signaled to the world outside of Silicon Valley what the internet could be.

1995 was a time of optimism, but also fear, as portrayed across pop culture: in The Net, Sandra Bullock plays Angela Bennett, a brilliant, socially isolated systems analyst who, after discovering a serious security breach, has her entire record—social security number, credit cards, medical history, and so on—erased by hackers; in order to undo the erasure of her identity she needs to hand over proof of cyberterrorism to the FBI. In Hackers, Angelina Jolie and her posse of teenage computer whizzes get into trouble when they discover a scheme to steal $25 million. They quote the 1986 Hacker Manifesto: “Yes, I am a criminal. My crime is that of curiosity.”

These fears and excitements are representative of a year marked by many like pendants; the Bosnian Wars raged while the Schengen Agreement for free travel in the European Union was implemented. It was the year of the Oklahoma City bombing and the indefinite extension of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty—just before the fiftieth anniversary of the dropping of the atomic bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. 1995 also witnessed the only time the nuclear briefcase (Cheget) ever opened, when the radar detection of a Norwegian scientific missile by Russian early warning systems was misinterpreted as an American-led attack. Rising to the forefront, the O. J. Simpson trial unfolded, live on television, with coverage greater than the Bosnian Wars and the Oklahoma City bombing combined, finally ebbing when the former athlete and media star was found not guilty in October. That month also saw the Million Man March, in which African-American leaders organized a mass protest and summit on Washington’s National Mall so as to address the economic and social ills plaguing black communities, something that echoes strongly today as American police forces increasingly target African-American men across the country, while #BLM calls for greater representation and respect for the same disadvantaged communities. On the other side of the world, the assignation of Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin chilled the Oslo Accords, and thus derailed hope for resolution in the Israel–Palestine conflict.

In 2005, writer Kevin Kelly published a text called “We Are the Web” in the magazine he founded, Wired. 1 It celebrated the ten-year anniversary of Netscape’s Public Offering, as a landmark in the history of the internet: “The Netscape IPO wasn’t really about dot-commerce. At its heart was a new cultural force based on mass collaboration. Blogs, Wikipedia, open source, peer-to-peer—behold the power of the people.” Kelly writes about what he imagined in 1995, what he sees in 2005, and projections for 2015. It is incredibly optimistic: “This view is spookily godlike. You can switch your gaze of a spot in the world from map to satellite to 3-D just by clicking. Recall the past? It’s there. Or listen to the daily complaints and travails of almost anyone who blogs (and doesn’t everyone?). I doubt angels have a better view of humanity.”

The Clinton presidency saw a balanced United States budget for the last time and the Dow Jones closed over 4,000 for the first time in February 1995, then over 5,000 in November, surpassing benchmarks twice in one year. The boundless economic growth in the United States and Western Europe in the ‘roaring nineties’ is attributed to the growth of the technology sector, which exploded—we now call it the “dot-com bubble”—as we stepped into the 2000s. 1995 is the midpoint of a decade whose legacy stretched deep into the next millennium in terms of geopolitical and financial effects. As the European Union is handling the fallouts of Brexit, the current wars in the Middle East create the largest refugee crisis since World War II, and the entire world battles with post-recession economics, the boundless optimism of 1995 seems almost quaint: as Kelly says, “if we have learned anything in the past decade, it is the plausibility of the impossible.”

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